Maple Leafs’ Commentary: Goalie Toughness, the Atlantic & Storm Coming

In this trial column, which we’ve titled “Toronto Maple Leafs Commentary,” we’re going to share ideas, commentary about the Maple Leafs, thoughts about the players on the team, the events of the season, as well as ideas that come to us as we watch and write about the team we cover.

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In this first column, we’ll comment on goalies Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, the situation the Maple Leafs find themselves in within their own Atlantic Division, the last two games with the New Jersey Devils before the All-Star break, and some of the players – including Timothy Liljegren.

Comment One: Considering the Mental Toughness NHL Goalies Must Possess

The last two games Jack Campbell has played caused us to think about the mental toughness of goalies. In one game he played so badly he was pulled; and, in the next game, he played great and came within a goal of recording a shutout.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

How can a goalie have such a stinker of a game and then come back and play lights out? That’s not a rhetorical question, we don’t get it.

During the second New Jersey Devils’ game, the fact is that Campbell looked like the Campbell of old and the goalie we’ve come to expect to see night after night in the net for the Maple Leafs. Even given the team’s seven goals, Campbell might have been the most significant factor in the 7-1 win over the Devils.  

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Although it was only one game, Leafs’ Nation must have breathed a collective sigh of relief watching Campbell’s performance. We also admit that we were worried about Campbell headed to the All-Star game with his head where it must have been over the past few weeks. 

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In one way, because the team’s focus on the offensive side of the game and not partaking in a total game experience, the All-Star game is never a good place for goalies. All the best shooters in the NHL have the freedom to roam and fire at will; and, these are truly the best players and shooters in the world. The name of the game is literally to score as many goals as possible.  

Ron Hextall Philadelphia Flyers
Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers, was an intense goalie (Photo by John Giamundo/Getty Images)

We can’t imagine a goalie like Rox Hextall or Billy Smith – in their days – dealing well with the philosophy of an All-Star game. Hopefully, however, Campbell can just relax and have fun with it and all the accompanying festivities.

Comment Two: Is this the Petr Mrazek Kyle Dubas Expected to Show Up?

In Petr Mrazek’s last four starts, even including the four goals he gave up against the Detroit Red Wings, he has a save percentage of .921 and a goals-against-average right around 2.00. That’s what Kyle Dubas had to be hoping for when he signed the Czech goalie to the three-year $3.8 million deal during the offseason. If Mrazek plays at this level, it’s going to be a crucial help to the Maple Leafs as they compete with the two Florida teams for first place in the Atlantic Division and to have an extended playoff run during the postseason.

Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs
Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hopefully, Mrazek’s play will also have a positive impact on Campbell. It has to be more relaxing for a goalie to know he doesn’t have to do all the team’s heavy lifting and that he has a competent partner. 

Comment Three: The Need for the Maple Leafs to Move Up in the Atlantic Standings

Prior to these last four games, we had written that it would be helpful for the team to win all four games if it wanted to stay in the hunt for first place in the Atlantic. The Maple Leafs had entered this four-game stretch 10 points behind the Florida Panthers and eight behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with five games in hand.  

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At the same time, the Maple Leafs were also only three points ahead of the Boston Bruins with a game in hand. After winning all four games, they are now eight points behind Florida while still having the same five games in hand. They’ve also closed to within five points of the Lightning with four games in hand. Finally, they’ve stretched their lead over Boston to six points with a game in hand. 

Comment Four: The Scoresheet Absence of John Tavares and William Nylander

Overall in the team’s last two games against the Devils, the Maple Leafs outscored the Devils 13 to 5. Mitch Marner led the way with seven points (including three goals and four assists). Marner was also a plus-7.  Matthews chipped in with four goals and two assists (for six points). He was a plus-6. Ilya Mikheyev added a goal and two assists (for three points). He was a plus-3. Finally, Jason Spezza, David Kampf, Pierre Engvall, Michael Bunting, Morgan Rielly, and Alex Kerfoot all had two points.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Conspicuously missing among those players were John Tavares and William Nylander. Not only did these two players not factor into the scoring, but they were also each a minus-3 over the two games. 

Should Maple Leafs’ fans worry? We don’t feel there’s anything to worry about there. However, it does show that any NHL season has ups and downs; and, obviously, this was a pair of down games for these prolific scorers.

Comment Five: Timothy Liljegren Is Making a Case for More Playing Time

Sure, every once in a while Timothy Liljegren makes a mistake. However, he also had an assist in the two games. More importantly, he was a plus-5 in those games. He’s making a strong case to remain in the lineup when Jake Muzzin returns.  

Comment Six: Maple Leafs’ Fans, This is the Calm Before the Storm

We are hoping the Maple Leafs’ players have some time during the All-Star break to relax, breathe, and enjoy themselves. This week is the calm before the storm. 

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The schedule for the last half of the season will be grueling for most NHL teams, but especially the Canadian-based teams. Fans will have some hockey to watch, which we’re sure will be both exciting and stressful.  

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]